Scams can occur in the most innocuous of ways and you may not even be aware of it. The League of Women Voters of East Nassau recently hosted Kenneth Heino, assistant commissioner of the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs, at Levittown Public Library for a seminar about consumer fraud. There Heino shared tips with local residents about how to avoid some of the most investigated scams in their weights and measures division, taxi and limousine commission and the retail and home improvement divisions. Here are some of the highlights of which you should be aware.
Weights And Measures
The Consumer Affairs Office goes out and measures the content to make sure when you pump a gallon you’re getting a gallon and they also measure that the octane you choose is actually what is being sold to you. “We do not set gas prices,” said Heino. It’s also their job to make sure scales at businesses, such as grocery stores, jewelry stores, laundromats and delis are to code and regulated, according to Heino. Scales are inspected and calibrated once a year. If there are reports of incidents, Heino said consumer affairs investigators will return to check alleged violations.
“We recently caught a butcher shop charging for the tare [the weight of the container],” said Heino. “You should not be paying for the container that products come in.”The consumer affairs inspectors can issue fines and turn cases over to the district attorney and police departments for criminal prosecution. If you’ve noticed that products in the grocery store are no longer individually marked, Heino explained the county’s “item pricing initiative.” This allows businesses to stop marking each item with the guarantee that every item in a 100 scanned items matches the posted price.
“This ensures that consumers are not being illegally charged different prices on the same item,” said Heino.
Some stores, such as RiteAid, do not participate in the initiative and choose to mark all items individually.
Taxi And Limos
All taxis and limos have to be licensed with the county in order to operate within the county. “[Registration] is important because we want to make sure the person operating that taxi or limousine does not have a criminal history, has a valid driver’s license and is properly insured,” said Heino.
The criminal history check is in place because “they’re driving kids to the prom. We want to make
sure they are not sex offenders and they also are not violating the passenger overload law. The kids pay for a 14-passenger vehicle and a 10-passenger vehicle shows up; some companies think ‘they’re kids, they won’t complain’ and they overbook the event date and cram kids into these limos,” Heino said.
At the time of print, e-taxi services such as Uber and Lift, commonly seen in the city, have not been regulated and are not licensed by the county.
In 2009, the Consumer Affairs office led a crackdown on expired healthcare items. Stores can sell expired items that are clearly marked and separated from the regular items as a “buyer beware” sale. Heino cautioned consumers about purchasing healthcare items at 99-cent stores. Some stores have been caught buying these items in bulk at discounted prices because the product has been altered or is extremely expired.
When it comes to refund policies, all other stores must have a posted refund policy clearly posted in a conspicuous place and available upon written request. The reverse-side of a receipt is suitable. Food stores and restaurants are exempt from this law. “You’ve eaten the ‘merchandise’ essentially, but I am sure someone has tried to do it,” Heino joked.
Anyone who is going to do home improvement work, such as painters, landscapers and handymen, must have a license. “Home improvement scams are the biggest issue in our county right now, especially since Superstorm Sandy,” Heino said.
Some of their requirements are to check if they have valid insurance, that their worker’s compensation is intact, that they are skilled in what they say they are going to do and that a proper background and criminal history check has been completed. Home improvement licenses are renewed every two years. Plumbers and electricians are excluded from the county licensing. They are licensed individually through the towns and villages.
“Reputable businesses do care about what consumers say about them online, but the Office of Consumer Affairs is a consumer protection agency,” said Heino.
To read about further about high-tech scams, please click here.
Consumers are encouraged to report unfair practices to the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs for investigation by calling 516-571-2600. Visit www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/oca/index.html for more information.